'I'm Going to Tell a Little Tale' by Dave Wilson

I'm going to tell a little tale. It's not about rare events or rare birds or spectacular happenings. It will be an attempt to remind everybody of what natural treasures we are able to find wherever we go and what we may lose if we cease to appreciate and protect them in an ever-uncertain world. I begin across the Channel in Normandy and finish with thoughts from home and the uncertainties for our future.

Not far from my eldest daughter Helen's family home stands one of Europe's most impressive coastal attractions - the ancient island abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. Between two and three million visitors a year attest to its appeal - to the genuinely devout; to painters and photographers; and to many who are taken there as willing, or unwilling, members of coach tours.

Commercialism there is rampant, and, whenever possible, I prefer to spend my time by a huge marshland, Le Marais de Sougeal, upstream from the tourist gatherings along the dawdling Couesnon River which, from where I choose to wander, resembles a great flood plain rather than the true marshy habitats which are more plentiful further south.

I have never met another soul on my mooches there, and so it was again on a fine early October morning when I made my most recent visit.

As usual, before reaching the spacious greenery where horses and cattle mingle, and glancing at the familiar towering poplars which play host to large clumps of mistletoe, I begin to think back to previous visits and some of the surprising encounters which have come my way - Cattle Egrets sticking close to grazing calves and mothers; frogs in crystal-clear ditches; Spotted Flycatchers with newly-fledged young; gorgeous Beautiful Demoiselles at rest; a delightful selection of motionless butterflies, among them Painted Lady and Marbled White; and an unconcerned Muskrat, seemingly seeking a morsel from the track I was following.

Sadly, when I reached my first vantage point, the misty marsh appeared devoid of life with no signs whatsover of even the regular largest inhabitants - Mute Swan, Cormorant and Grey Heron. And then I remembered that, in this region, Thursday is the day when "hunters" roam about, practising their pot-shotting and my doubts were confirmed when loud cracks sounded from the other side of the marsh - and the ricocheting calls of hidden, startled Jackdaws disturbed the silence.

Thereafter, I concentrated on the tinier wonders at my feet and by my side - crane flies everywhere; occasional resting spiders near empty webs; late summer's sparse floral show and eye-catching autumn tints among the brambles; resting Small Coppers, Speckled Woods and a solitary Comma among leaves of changing colour; a Common Darter on the path; a hidden creature moving about near a cluster of fallen sweet chestnut fruits and shells and, as I left this place of refreshing solitude, a couple of Goldfiches tinkled by, rested briefly, and then flew together towards a clump of inviting thistles.

Chestnut shells and Goldfinches came to mind again a couple of weeks ago as I stood with others at the cenotaph in Atherton on Remembrance Sunday. By eleven o'clock the sounds of marching feet, brass band music and voices giving whispered greetings had ended for just two minutes - as silent now as when I rested by the marsh a month ago. And then, before the reveille was played and the flags raised, gentle Goldfinch music was heard from far away and a Grey Wagtail made a rapid flypast.

Whatever thoughts the assembled folk were having as they stood in respectful silence, some would perhaps have tried to imagine the horrors of past wars with battlefields of carnage, ruined lives, discarded weapons and shell cases.

Thankfully, even at this time of political turmoil, there are too many good and caring people around to ensure that the only discarded shells in future will be Mother Nature's - on the Normandy beaches and other friendly shores; by the secret anvil of Song Thrushes here and there; and beneath bountiful chestnut trees everywhere!

Dave Wilson

A Trip with Twite a Good Ending

Saturday 24th November

After the 8.00am meet at Doctors Nook, we caught up with the rest of the group at Conder Green Picnic Area at approximately 9.00am. The trip members began with a flurry of sightings, clocking up 35 or so species in the first hour, including Redshank, Meadow Pipit, Greenshank, Goosander and a pair of Common Sandpiper, just to name a few. A great start to our day's birding.

Then we moved across Conder Bridge to the pools just beyond. Here we added Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit and a solitary Pink-footed Goose, along with some Redwing and Fieldfare in nearby Hawthorn bushes. After this brief stop off we headed off through Glasson Dock and on to Bodie Hill

On reaching Bodie Hill viewing point, high tide was due. Here we were greeted by the magnificent view looking towards Sunderland Point across the Lune Estuary. The salt marsh was buzzing with birdlife. Hundreds of Lapwing and Golden Plover with huge flocks of Linnet, many Starling, Shelduck. Also picked up in the scopes, a resting Peregrine Falcon.

Two Brown Hares appeared in the field below. The highlight for me were the Golden Plover in many numbers twinkling against the green backdrop, illuminated by the low winter sun that made a brief appearance. High tide came and went and the party meandered its way towards Pilling Amenity Area. On the way we saw Whooper and Mute Swan grazing in the unused fields. 

On reaching Pilling Amenity Area, we were greeted by a good number of Pink-footed Geese. We parked up adjacent to the shoreline. Curlew, Little Egret, and Linnet were observed with good numbers of Redshank once again. The real highlights of the hour we spent at this spot was a leucistic Linnet which caused some discussion on whether or not it was a Snow Bunting, but alas the over all verdict was Linnet

Then the spot of the day a Ringtail Hen Harrier putting up a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits whilst scouring the now receding shoreline for prey. Credit to Alan Wilcox for picking this wonderful bird out. 

Getting a little cold it was decided to head for Knott End our last port of call. On reaching Knott End the group headed to the ferry slipway hoping see the Twite, which are regular visitor to this spot. Good close up views of fighting Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher and a distant male Eider spotted moving out with the quickly receding tide. 

Some headed for the cafĂ© and a welcome warm and hot drink whilst others bravely scoured the promenade in search of the elusive Twite, after all they would be a fitting end to our trip. 

A Kestrel kept several in the group entertained whilst hunting over the salt marsh.  Eventually it landed on the rocks without any prey, but on the next glance it had caught a mouse.  Either it had done this without us noticing or it had stashed ether prey there from a previous kill.
After a short break and the happy wanderers returning, the remaining members of the group regathered at the top of the slipway. A Pied Wagtail entertained us on the statue of L.S. Lowry as we waited. It was rather narcissistic as it seemed to like its own reflection in the shiny surface. I don't remember him painting matchstick birds, just matchsticks cats and dogs!

Then after a brief wait the Twite appeared, gathering around a mooring ring on the slipway for a drink of fresh water contained in the little depression where the ring was fixed. The flock of Twite came and went a few times. Lovely to see. 

With light fading and the ever receding tide taking the birds further from view, we as a group slowly dispersed and headed home, having had a great day in excellent company as usual. 51 species were recorded in total - a great day's birding. 

Thanks to all who attended and hope to see you all very soon on the next adventure.

Paul Pennington
L.O.S. Fieldtrips Officer

L.O.S. Fieldtrip to mid-Lancashire - Saturday 24th November 2018

For our third trip of the L.O.S. season we are visiting a number of sites in part of Lancashire which include Conder Green, Glasson Dock, Pilling and Knott End. We are meeting at Doctors Nook car park (on the other side of the main road from Leigh Library) at 8.00am prompt.

Car sharing is a must on this trip as some of the stopping points only have enough parking for around eight to ten cars. This trip involves little or no walking, and is very suitable for people with reduced mobility. We will basically park up, get out of the car and birdwatch, although there will be opportunities to walk a little further if required.

On leaving Leigh we will head to Conder Green picnic area (LA2 0AN) and the journey takes approximately 1 hour. Anyone who wishes to go directly there should be at this point at 9am but please let me know). We will birdwatch from Conder Green for about an hour. Then I will give directions to the next stopping points and things to look out for. 

There is an expected high tide at 11.30am and this will hopefully push the birds towards us. Our final destination will be Knott End at about 3pm. 

A recent revisit produced 46 species so the prospects of reaching 50 species are very good. A scope will be very helpful on this trip but by no means essential.

Leigh Ornithological Society Hit the Beach Running for their Hilbre Jaunt

Saturday 27/10/18 1000-1645 hours -  Bright and Sunny with a Northerly Blow

Society safely shepherded shore-shore solely scintillatingly steadfastly by our surefooted shore-man ‘Young Kenny’, our lone Hilbre guide for the day who happily welcomed Team LOS to his spiritual home…this gemlike plot of tranquillity and episodic isolation to which Kenny often safely and skilfully negotiates those of us landlubbers such as on this particular visit who admittedly are governed by the inland tides offered by such as Pennington Flash and the Ship Canal!

The launch time of our first footfalls was set at 10am sharp but the responsibility of ensuring that wet feet were avoided as ever weighed heavily on Kenny’s shoulders, especially as his right hand men were unable to turn out today and as much as his Mancunian H&S obsessed sidekick for the day made his role slightly easier, the full responsibility hovering about Kenny’s head put him into Shepherd mode....and within a few minutes the comfy corral in Morrison’s breakfast bar was emptied and all were inducted into the ways of safely negotiating our route to splendid isolation....

The weatherman had done his best to paint the day with a virulent colour of fearful conditions but in reality the northern blow that accompanied this crossing carried with it blue skies dominated by the sun....step by step over admittedly a ruffled carpet of sand (caused by as Kenny explained ‘wind over sea condition’) we absorbed energising life....arrived at and crossed over Middle Eye with ease and with careful steps moved over the rocky way that led us to our temporary Desert Island home.

Observatory reached, most of the Team settled to elevenses whilst others set up their cameras ready to capture the images that a lively sea whipped up by the persistent northerly blow...a truly refreshing sprite that didn’t bite too deep to lessen our love of this late October visit to this often unpredictable isle which may not deliver birds in a big species spread but impresses with its bank of natural history that always gives impressive memories.

A wander over to the slipway at the northernmost tip of the isle was populated with images of a roaring seascape, elusive Grey Seals which played hide and seek in their wave rich habitat and Common Scoter which bobbed about on energetic white horses.

A vigil at the slipway which with ease refreshed the Team, as if all had committed to a week at an expensive Spa, gave few additions to the day list but all were made abundantly aware that the health of the surrounding sea as a larder was more than capable to feed a swarm of Cormorants and satisfy the ever present marauders of the sea, Great Black Backed Gulls.

A return through the private sections of the isle added a lone but vital mammal addition to our wildlife list and I’m sure that the Short Tailed Vole was happy to put a smile on the faces of our gathering before it retreated into the undergrowth.

Lunch, chat and lounging about in the relative comfort of the obs occupied the next hour. Kenny then put on his Hilbre Isle Historian/BTO bird ringer/Comedian hats after which, as with all street performers. passed round the Obs hat round. He must have been good for this was generously filled to the brim.

Then, as all drifted about the Isle there was the additional bonus for Kenny and myself, as the son of the original owners (they generously donated the building to the obs group decades ago) paid us a visit...memory lane was then walked for many a mile before we bid Nick a fond farewell.

Middle Eye held its usual massed choir of Oystercatchers with some legroom left for Herring Gulls and possibly another species or two which could have been noted if effort had been made to look beyond the spectacle of so many assembled ‘Pied Clad Redbills’...

Wandering over and about our isle ...yes the tide was still holding us happily captive...took place for a further hour or so with some of the Team finding small gatherings of Turnstone and Ringed Plover whilst others simply allowed the isle to hold us in its welcoming arms before the waves parted and invited us to leave.

Then as the odd Little Egret swept by no doubt carrying a sign to Kenny that the dry was coming the bird log was called after which belongings were gathered and off we trooped over to west Kirby...

Breezy chatty footfalls then took all back to our start point within the hour and after a fond farewell to the Hilbre Team of One and his temporary Right Hand Man...All left with Hilbre isle smiles…it always does that to you!

Dave Steel